Better Know a Rikishi--Mitakeumi
Sumo is undergoing a transition. The end of September saw the official retirement ceremony of a Yokozuna, Kisenosato, who had to leave the dohyo for good in January. The two remaining Yokozuna and an Ozeki had to leave the September tournament with injuries, continuing an unfortunate pattern for top ranked veterans. Meanwhile, 5 first-time winners have lifted the Emperor’s Cup since January 2018. The only one of those 5 to repeat so far is Mitakeumi, who got his second Yusho during Aki 2019.
That does not necessarily mean he is on a future Yokozuna path. He’s probably not even the best bet to be the next Yokozuna. The much younger Takakeisho has already achieved Ozeki status, technically vaulting ahead of Mitakeumi on the banzuke. And despite the two yusho, Mitakeumi’s performances between his championships hasn’t been consistently spectacular. Still, he has managed to win twice, with the second one being a playoff win over Takakeisho.
Mitakeumi’s career has always seemed to be full of well-tempered yet high expectations. He was born Omichi Hisashi on Christmas Day 1992 to a Japanese father and a Filipino mother, and began sumo in first grade. He was instantly a standout. He was the second-best elementary age sumo wrestler as a child, and a top high school sumotori. Recruited to Toyo University, he only improved, becoming an amateur Yokozuna by winning the university championship in 2014.
That gave him a special opportunity when he joined professional sumo. As an amateur Yokozuna, he would be granted makushita tsukedashi status, which would allow him to begin his professional career at the elevated rank of Makushita 10. He nearly turned it down. He was a law student at Toyo University and was pondering a career in public service. Instead, the head of Dewanoumi stable, the former Maegashira Oginohana, convinced him to join his stable and professional sumo.
In truth, Deanoumi-beya needed him more than he needed it. Dewanoumi has a long tradition, including nine Yokozuna and four Ozeki. In 2014, however, the stable had no sekitori, but only wrestlers outside the top two divisions. Entering on the threshold of promotion to Juryo and sekitori status, Omichi Hisashi was an excellent get. He joined the stable and took the ring name “Mitakeumi” as a tribute to a mountain near his hometown (Mitake) and his brand new stable (-umi).
He took two tournaments to get to Juryo and just two more to join the top division. Within a year, he had achieved the lowest Sanyaku rank of Komusubi. After one drop back to Maegashira 1, he got 11 wins to return to the Sanyaku ranks for the January 2017 tournament. Since then, he has not fallen back into the Maegashira ranks.
He also has achieved double-digit wins exactly twice in sixteen basho, in his yusho tournaments. This is probably also the time to point out that both of his yusho wins were in basho that all the Yokozuna went out injured. WIth a fully healthy slate, Mitakeumi is mostly a 9 win sekiwake. Holding onto a Sanyaku rank is better than yo-yoing back up and down between the top Maegashira ranks, but it also doesn’t betoken a serious Ozeki run. Being good not great usually doesn’t allow for 33 wins over 3 tournaments.
This weird efficiency without spectacularity fits his style of sumo. Mitakeumi is a pusher-thruster, and naturally his most frequent winning kimarite is oshidahi, the push out. Yet he also gets a significant amount of yori-kiri wins, the force out and usually the signature of grapplers. When he is on, Mitakeumi seems to get an extra step on the other rikishi and begins pushing on the chest from underneath. Plenty of those yori-kiri decisions come from him being right underneath his opponent and forcing them out bulldozer-style.
The whole method is absurdly simple, yet also quite effective. Mitakeumi has a speed to his sumo that is rarely seen. “Speed” is not often a term used in sumo, because no one can outrun someone on a dohyo. (Also, 350 pound men are generally not fast.) Quickness and agility are certainly helpful, but Mitakeumi doesn’t twist around his opponents or move suddenly to the other side. He powers up and charges ahead at astonishing pace.
In that, he is most reminiscent of another top rikishi who somehow still seems like a disappointment, Goeido. On his day, Goeido overwhelms any oncomers. The problem is that his day isn’t every day. Still, Goeido is a long serving Ozeki. Mitakeumi and his fans will want to see him go higher, but being an Ozeki for any time is an achievement few rikishi attain.
Whether Mitakeumi can surpass that is still to be determined. The next few tournaments will show if Mitakeumi has more in him.